Activists protest for Sanderson Farms workers claiming inhumane working conditions at Bryan plant

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BRYAN, Tex. (KBTX) - Dozens of activists and former employees gathered outside the Sanderson Farms plant in Bryan Monday morning to protest what they call unsafe and unfair working conditions.

"This is humiliating, unfair and against OSHA regulations, which state very clearly that employers must provide employees access to bathrooms when needed," explained Nancy Plankey Videla, an advocate for workers rights with Centro de Derechos Laborales.

Her group joined Interfaith Worker Justice, Brazos Interfaith Immigration Network, and Council for Minority Student Affairs to stand in solidarity for current Sanderson Farms employees. Workers from various other plants in North Carolina and Arkansas, that claim the same mistreatment, protested too.

"The fact that this happens at other plants doesn't mean Sanderson Farms is off the hook. It just means that this is an industry-wide problem, a violation of the law and violation of individual workers and their basic human dignity," said Plankey Videla.

Among the allegations brought against the company, activists say workers are being denied bathroom breaks and experiencing sexual harassment.

"We have witnesses and people who have told us that they have begged to go to the bathroom and have had to urinate while working on the production line," said Plankey Videla. "Quite a few women have also come and told us about harassment on the part of supervisors, where they will say in exchange for sexual favors, here's an easier position on the line."

Some former workers say the speed of the production line would pick up randomly throughout the day, forcing workers to overexert themselves and, in some cases, cause injury.

"This struggle has been going on a long time, and I needed to stand up and fight for those who are still working inside," said former employee Hortencia Rangel.

KBTX spoke with Sanderson Farms corporate office in Mississippi, who say these allegations are false.

"The same labor group has made these allegations before in Mississippi," said Sanderson Farms Chief Financial Officer Mike Cockrell. "We denied they were accurate then and we deny they're accurate now. Such allegations, they're frankly offensive. The idea that anyone would treat another human being like that is difficult to imagine and if that happened in our plant those supervisors would be terminated immediately."

Cockrell claims the company does investigations within their plants regularly and that their HR rules and policies are audited.

"The specific allegations are, of course, investigated, but we do investigations all the time," said Cockrell. "We have a zero tolerance policy on any kind of discrimination, on any kind of harassment, sexual or otherwise."

Activists delivered a letter to Sanderson Farms today, detailing the OSHA and EEOC rules and regulations they believe the company is violating. The group is hoping this will help change the working culture at plants across the country.